U.S. can do little to stop civil war in Iraq, experts say
WASHINGTON -- This is supposed to be a pivotal week for the U.S. venture in Iraq: President Bush is to meet Thursday in Jordan with Iraq's prime minister, and the blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group has begun debating its final recommendations to the Wh...
WASHINGTON -- This is supposed to be a pivotal week for the U.S. venture in Iraq: President Bush is to meet Thursday in Jordan with Iraq's prime minister, and the blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group has begun debating its final recommendations to the White House.
But does any of it matter?
Not really, according to a growing number of Middle East analysts, who say that Iraq's cascading civil strife has spun out of Washington's control.
If Iraq is to hold together and avoid an all-out bloodbath, they say, it will be because the country's warring factions step back from the brink and forge some sort of political compromise. That seems like a pipe dream after a weekend of the worst violence for Iraqi civilians since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The United States has 140,000 troops in Iraq and is spending about $2 billion per week on military operations, "but all of that effort doesn't really matter," said Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University professor and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
"We're not in control any longer," Bacevich said.
The U.S. news media are grappling with the question of whether the conflict has become a civil war, as evidenced by Monday's announcement from NBC News that, after much consideration, it had decided to use the phrase.
In a nod to how sensitive the topic has become, the network's Matt Lauer noted, "We didn't just wake up on a Monday morning and say, 'Let's call this a civil war.' This took careful deliberation."
Bush is due to meet in Amman, Jordan, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nourial-Maliki in an effort to prod him to take concrete steps, particularly to deal withrampaging sectarian militias.
But Maliki's government is seen as increasingly ineffectual, particularly by Iraqis, who are turning more and more to local militias to protect them. What's more, Maliki needs the support of the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army is one of the powerful Shiite militias. Sadr's political party controls four ministries and the largest bloc of votes inparliament.
"This is an out-and-out fight for power," agreedJeffrey White, a former senior Middle East analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"There is a smokescreen of this national unity government, but they have no general agreement on the future shape of Iraq, no general agreement on the distribution of power, no general agreement on the distribution of resources," White said. "It defies any magic or goldenformula."
CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden told a Senate committee in mid-November that "Iraq's endemic violence is eating away at the state's ability to govern."
The spreading civil strife threatens to overwhelm the long-awaited recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and retired Congressman Lee Hamilton.
The group's 10 commissioners, five Republicans and five Democrats, began meeting Monday to try to reach consensus on a final report, which Baker and Hamilton hope to issue in early December.
The panel is expected to recommend U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria to stabilize Iraq, which would be a major policy reversal on the part of Bush, who has shunned both governments.
But even if Iran and Syria wanted to help, they're almost certain to demand U.S. concessions, and they might have limited ability to assist, the analysts said.
"This thing is going to be decided by Iraqis in Iraq," said Wayne White, a longtime Middle East intelligence officer at the State Department who has retired. "Surrounding players are going to play a bit part."
The Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.